PRO DAY: Fortt Faces More Questions
BERKELEY -- There has never been any question as to Khairi Fortt's physical prowess.
At the NFL Combine in February, Fortt cranked out 30 bench press reps of 225 pounds – tied for the most at the event – ran a 4.70-second 40-yard dash and posted a 36.0-inch vertical leap. His draft profile on NFL.com says what many California football fans already know: "Good size with a muscular build. Field fast -- moves like a safety. Very athletic and agile. Plays on his feet and bends naturally. Excellent lateral agility -- flows smoothly and has sideline-to-sideline range. Uses his arms like flippers to play off blocks. Loose-hipped to drop into coverage and match with backs and tight ends. Has traits to excel on special teams."
There was one question, though, that even NFL scouts have continued to ask, and it was a question Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes asked Fortt during the bye week last season, as Fortt and the rest of the team struggled with nagging injuries.
As chronicled by the Pac-12 Networks' The Drive (Sept. 25 episode), Dykes put his left arm around Fortt's shoulder pads, and said, "You've got to decide you're ready to become a football player. That's the only thing holding you back right now. You've got 122 players, 475,000 alums, 30,000 students waiting for you to be a player. You know what I mean?
Before that conversation, Fortt averaged 6.67 tackles per game. After, he tallied 44 stops in six games, for an average of 7.33, adding 3.0 tackles for loss to his 0.5 over the first three games.
"When somebody tells you you're not being a football player, you do have your opinion about it," Fortt says. "I've been playing since fourth grade. You also have to understand that the coach is trying to motivate you to be the best player you can be, and that's how I took it. I took it as constructive criticism. I learned from it, went out and just tried to help the team out the best I can. He was pushing the right buttons."
The same query posed by Dykes, though, was summarized neatly in Fortt's draft profile in a single sentence: "Motivation and durability should be looked into."
For Fortt, his motivation is clear.
"I believe I can achieve greatness, if I just put my mind to it," he said at his Pro Timing Day at California Memorial Stadium.
After the Bears' 1-11 season in 2013, and, at the time, no changes in the defensive staff, Fortt had a decision to ponder. The Butkus Award semifinalist – who missed the final three games of the season with a biceps injury – felt that he was too close to his dream to spend another year in Berkeley, though, he says, he has no regrets about transferring to Cal from Penn State.
"Transferring, I thought it was the best choice for me -- a great group of guys, even though the coaching staff that recruited me got fired and we got a new coaching staff, I still embraced them," Fortt says. "I believe that next year and in the upcoming years, things will get a lot better. This year was a little learning thing, with toughness and knowing plays and just learning to trust your teammates, but I feel like, the next couple years, they'll step it up."
The decision to leave early didn't come easy for Fortt ,nor did he take it lightly.
"It was tough, because I did have another year, and we didn't have that great a year this year. We had a lot of guys coming back next year, and I love guys out there that I was playing with and training with all the time, but I thought it was best for me," says Fortt, who sought an evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board before making his final decision. The answers he got back were encouraging.
"The head guy called me and said I got a few second-round grades, about the same amount of third-round grades, a fourth- and a seventh-round grade. I thought that was pretty decent," Fortt says. "I know it's a conservative answer, especially with the amount of juniors coming out that have not received their degrees yet, so I know they don't want to push guys to come out early without them having their degrees. I felt like it was a good answer that I was looking for. That's how I made my decision."
So, no matter how much next year's Bears step up, they'll be doing it without Fortt, who was asked quite another question at the NFL Scoutin Combine back in February. Well, not so much a question, as another challenge.
"I was writing out some of the plays that they had just taught me about their defense, and while I was writing them, trying to memorize what they said to me, they also said, ‘So, I spoke to your ex-girlfriend, and she said that you don't deal well with pressure.' When I looked up and tried to address it, he was like, ‘What are you doing? You can't multitask?'" Fortt says. "I know it's testing, they want to see how you react to things in different situations. It was just firing, like, question, question. I couldn't even answer a question fully before another guy was asking a question. It was a pretty interesting experience that I've never experienced before."
While Fortt was hustled out of Indianapolis following the Combine, he finally had a chance to speak with some scouts at the Cal Pro Day last week, and get some feedback.
"I think it went well. I dropped a couple pounds since the Combine. I thought I ran pretty well. I actually don't really know my times," says Fortt, who averaged 4.68 seconds in the 40 at Memorial Stadium. "I feel like I can run faster. I mean, I know I can run faster. I was catching running backs during the season. I pulled my hamstring two weeks ago, and that last 20 yards [were tough], I still think I had a decent time. I don't know what my L-drill and my 5-10-5 were, but I felt pretty quick."
The scouts certainly were impressed by Fortt's physique, and his plus-plus athleticism.
"They liked how I've played in space, they liked the one-on-one matches I had with receivers and running backs," Fortt says. "I talked to a couple other scouts [today], and they thought I had really good hips for a guy my size. I'm looking forward to doing personal workouts and visits."
At those visits and workouts for NFL teams, Fortt will assuredly be asked about his motivation and drive again. For that, he has but one answer.
"Just having a mentality for football, it's my dream. It's so close," Fortt says of the NFL. "I've been playing football since fourth grade, for the past 13 years. I feel like this past year, I had a solid year, and just making the move to the next level was just another stepping stone."
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